In the mind of a 12th grader, winter break means sleeping until noon, binge-watching TV, hanging out with friends, and awkward holiday gatherings with extended family. However, as parents of a high school senior, you might have different expectations for Winter Break! Here are a few topics for YOU to “check-in” with your senior as college deadlines loom.Mother helping student at the computer

What do I even say?

This will depend on the dynamic of the relationship you have with your child. College can be simultaneously both a serious and an exciting topic. Showing a genuine interest in your child’s college process can be a very powerful thing. Find the right balance of asking questions and offering perspective. Ultimately, this is your child’s college process; gaining their trust and good faith to include you on this journey is a win-win situation.


Grades are important, but you already knew that, right? Be sure to check in with your child regarding:

  • Their semester report card (if available) or their final grades.
  • Which classes they enjoyed and which ones they found challenging.
  • What lessons they learned or takeaways they had from their most recent semester.
  • How their cumulative high school G.P.A. is looking.

ACT, anyone?

Many colleges require an entrance exam for admission, as well as to determine the amount of scholarship money they might offer the student. Around the Midwest, the ACT test is the most popular option among the four-year colleges, although the SAT is also an option that is generally favored by many coastal colleges. Community colleges may alternatively require the Accuplacer. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If your student is planning to go to a college that requires it, have they taken the test already? Did they score high enough to gain admission to that school? What about scholarships?
  • Do they need to register for another test date to improve their score?
  • Scores are often found online through the student’s portal account from their high school, or on that particular test’s portal account (such as


Has your student applied to one or multiple colleges? If so, do you know which ones? It is always valuable to get students and parents on the same page when it comes to potential college options. Topics to discuss include:

  • Academic programs or majors at that school
  • Cost of Education (tuition, books, housing, transportation, etc., which can be found on many college websites through their Net Price Calculators)
  • Proximity to home
  • Whether or not to schedule a campus visit or a follow-up visit

Did you get your FAFSA done yet?

The FAFSA application will ask about the financial situation at home to determine one very important number: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). That number will tell the college whether you qualify for Pell Grant, Work-Study, and Federal Student Loans. The FAFSA becomes available every October 1, and you can consult a FAFSA Checklist to find out what information you will need to round up (from student and parents) before you sit down to file the FAFSA. Also, check out these FAFSA Demo videos or call the nearest EducationQuest office for assistance.


Last but definitely not least are scholarships, which are the wildcards in the financial aid process. It’s in your student’s best interest to seek out and apply for as many scholarships as they can. Some scholarships will be based on financial need (FAFSA results), some on merit (academics, athletics, artistic achievement), and others may be based on activities (clubs, organizations, work, community service). Scholarships may require one or more of the following items:

As a parent, one of the best ways you can help your student with their scholarship hunt is to create or find an environment they can use to focus on scholarships. Set a timer: an hour here, an hour there can be big. Turning off the TV during this time can also be impactful. Your child will likely not get every single scholarship they apply to, but the desired outcome is to receive enough scholarships (both big and small) to help pay for college and minimize the need for loans. Remember, this can be a potentially stressful process for your student, so any support you can provide to alleviate that stress is of great value.

Parents who have gone through this process before: any strategies you want to share with your fellow parents? What worked well for your student and family?